Struggling with your child’s behavior? Learn why you need to follow through with consequences (and tips on how to stand your ground).
“If you don’t pick these toys up, they’re going in the garbage bag,” I warned my son. He had been leaving random toys on the ground without cleaning up after himself. But as you might expect from a child testing his boundaries, he still refused to clean up his mess.
He’d been pushing his limits all day, from not wanting to put his shoes on to throwing a fit about the food on his plate.
I wish I could say I held my ground during each outburst, but instead I’d give him another chance. Seeing the disappointment and remorse on his face was enough to change my mind. And although I’d avoided yet another meltdown, I knew I was doing my son a disservice when I didn’t follow through with consequences.
Why we struggle to follow through with consequences
Perhaps you can relate. Your child may be testing your limits as well, forcing you to threaten consequences that you later don’t enforce. Why is it so hard for us to follow through with consequences?
- We feel pity. As angry as we may feel the moment our kids misbehave, we feel just as sorry for them when we realize how remorseful they are. Following through with consequences becomes difficult especially as they plead with us and show a change of heart.
- We feel guilty. No one likes to see their kids in tears because of enforcing consequences. We may even assume we’re at fault, that we’ve made them sad and upset.
- It’s easier to give in. Disciplining children, showing empathy, explaining their behavior… All this takes time and effort. It’s hard to follow through with consequences when giving in seems to stop the crying and whining.
Why we should follow through with consequences
Despite the challenges with following through, I began to learn how much more effective it was to do so, especially in the long run.
I noticed a remarkable difference in my son’s behavior when I followed through with consequences. It seemed that the initial work upfront began to shape his own decision-making process. Even the way he responded to instructions or discipline changed for the better.
More importantly, our relationship improved from that filled with power struggles to mutual respect and trust. Sure, sticking by my word is difficult in the moment, but following through provided several benefits for both me and my son.
Take a look at several reasons you should follow through with consequences:
1. Your child will take you seriously
No one wants to leave a family gathering because of a child’s wild antics or cut reading time short when kids misbehave. But following through with what you say will get the message across that you mean your word.
Your child will call your bluff if you don’t enforce the rules consistently and regularly. Any “punishment” doled out is an empty threat, just another phrase mom says that won’t bear any action.
Following through with consequences reinforces the trust your child places in you. While you may not win short-term favor, in the long run, you’re gaining your child’s trust.
2. Your child will learn right from wrong
You’re your child’s primary teacher—the person from whom she learns right from wrong as well as her values. By following through with consequences, she knows which behavior is acceptable.
You’re teaching your child the natural and logical consequences of her behavior. If you don’t enforce consequences, she learns that her behaviors have no limits, falsely assuming the world bends to her whims.
Besides, your child won’t thrive in total freedom. She hasn’t reached an age to make mature decisions on her own. She needs you to teach her right from wrong with her best intentions in mind.
3. Your child learns accountability
No finger-pointing here. When your child receives consequences, she learns she’s accountable for her decisions. The consequences tie with her choices: She didn’t pick up the toys means she doesn’t get to play with them. You enforce, but her actions determine the outcome.
By following through with consequences, your child will think through and deliberate her choices more thoroughly and will be less likely to make impulsive decisions.
4. Following through shows you care
Ironically, setting limits and following through reassures your child that you care. Despite her protests, your child wants boundaries and someone who cares enough to go through the hassles of enforcing them.
A child whose parents don’t put in the time and effort to follow through will feel forgotten. Yes, in the moment, she might feel angry and resentful, but in the bigger picture, she’d rather you have her best interests in mind than simply let her get away with everything.
How to follow through with consequences
We’ve learned why it’s important to follow through with consequences, but as we discovered earlier, it’s not always the easiest to do. It’s one thing to set out to do one thing but not know exactly how to do so.
Take a look at the following ways you can follow through with consequences effectively:
1. Use natural consequences
Natural consequences are the direct results of your child’s choices and behavior.
Let’s say your child refuses to clean up her toys. It’s tempting to confiscate a favorite item or privilege such as not being able to watch television. But watching television and refusing to clean her toys don’t tie well together. This not only confuses her but directs her anger toward you, the parent.
Instead, let her experience the difficulty of finding her favorite toy as a result of not cleaning it up. She may not experience this until a few hours or even a day after not cleaning up her toys, but she can better tie in how her choice led to her inability to find her favorite toy.
Natural consequences are the way the real world operate:
“The real world operates on consequences. If we do a consistently lousy job at work, our boss doesn’t take away our VCR—he fires us.” – Parenting with Love & Logic (affiliate link)
2. Follow through without anger or lecturing
The not-calm way to do it? “You’re not getting a cupcake after lunch if you don’t keep your voice down!” I yelled at my son in the car. My excuses: his brothers were sleeping in the car, and we were hungry and in traffic.
Still. The better way? State the consequences as a matter-of-fact (and follow through just as calmly).
Later, my son was playing with a heavy plastic toy near his baby brothers, hovering it above their heads. “Please don’t hold it like that. It could fall and hurt them,” I said. “If you keep doing that, I’ll have to put it away until tomorrow morning.”
Of course, he continued to hover the toy over their heads, so I placed the toy in the closet just as I said, all without anger or lecturing.
I took my emotions out of the equation and emphasized that the consequences were a result of his actions. I wasn’t being the “mean mommy” acting out of a foul mood as I had done when I was angry in the car. I was applying the consequences to his behavior.
The best part? His reaction was by far one of the calmest I had ever seen. No uproar, resentment or further stubbornness followed.
3. Offer consequences you can follow through
Stick to feasible consequences, such as not staying too long at the park because he had taken too long getting ready.
You’re likely not going to cancel your trip to Disneyland, so don’t say you’re going to if she doesn’t get dressed. Farfetched consequences may work a few times because your child is shocked at its magnitude, but she’ll soon catch on.
Not only are farfetched consequences lies, they’ll also lead your child to believe you less and less over time.
And use consequences appropriate for your child’s age and stage. Don’t expect her to vacuum the mess she made on the carpet if she doesn’t know how to or is too small to do so. Stick to consequences that are within her abilities.
4. Be consistent
Like most things with parenting, consistency is key. Yes, it’s healthy to pick your battles, but following through with consequences helps kids understand their boundaries.
We’re all human and can’t be on our A-game 100% of the time, but the more consistent you are—however difficult those first few times—the more effective your discipline will be.
Your child will start to pay attention and remember that you stick to your word. She’ll be less likely to misbehave because she knows what happens when she does.
Giving in seems much easier than following through with consequences, especially when we feel a mix of guilt and pity at our kids’ change of heart. We’re likely to bend to avoid yet another tantrum.
Still, I learned how crucial it is to stick to our word. Kids take us seriously and learn to trust what we say. They learn right from wrong as well as the importance of holding themselves accountable for their actions. And they know we care enough to have their best interest in mind, even when it’s hard.
When done with respect, following through with consequences isn’t about “punishments,” but providing the boundaries kids need to learn and grow.
Even if it meant tossing a few toys in a garbage bag in the middle of my son’s tears and protests.
Get more tips on how to follow through with consequences:
- How to Stop Nagging Your Child to Get Stuff Done
- Help Your Child WANT to Behave
- How to Stop Kids from Talking Back to You
- How to Avoid Saying Yet Another Empty Threat
- What to Do when You Tell Your Kids No Too Often
Do you struggle with following through with consequences? What are your tips on how to follow through with what you say?
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